Elita Chikwati Senior Agriculture Reporter
Government is working towards ensuring improved power supplies in farming areas to save crops under irrigation and ensure national food security.
The measures, put in place by the ministries of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement; and Energy and Power Development, will see farming communities getting priority in electricity allocation.
Farmers have been urged not to panic, but to continue with their business as the two ministries were working together to solve the challenges they were facing.
Some farmers are getting increasingly concerned as their crops are showing signs of moisture stress, while others who have not yet planted are no longer sure if it is viable to continue.
In an interview after touring Glenara Estates in Harare yesterday, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri said farmers should not panic.
He urged them to continue planting and implementing smart agriculture technogies to get decent yields.
“We have been engaging the Ministry of Energy and Power Development so that they try their level best to improve on power supply,” said Minister Shiri. “We have had a series of meetings and I am happy that it’s bearing fruits.
“Of late, you have realised the Minister of Energy (Fortune Chasi) has become part of the Ministry of Lands, because he has realised that together we have to find solutions.”
Minister Shiri expressed concern over the low rainfall received during the first half of the season, but said farmers could continue planting.
“The start of the season was characterised by interspersed rain spells followed by a prolonged dry spell which we are currently experiencing,” he said.
“The extreme hot conditions are not quite favourable to crop growth and that has worsened the situation, hence the wilting which we are witnessing in non-irrigated crops.
“The weather forecast we got from our Meteorological Services Department and the SADC Climate Services Centre (CSC) suggests that the second half of the season — January to April — will have normal to below normal rains.”
Minister Shiri urged farmers not to panic as there were still chances that they could successfully grow their crops.
“Not everything has been lost,” he said. “This should not discourage farmers. Normal to below normal (rain) does not necessarily mean there will not be any rains to see us through the season. It actually depends on the quantity of the downpours we get.
“It is advisable for farmers to continue planting, but they should consider utilising short-season varieties and planting crops such as pulses, legumes and traditional grains.”
Minister Shiri said those wishing to plant could go for short-season and ultra-short season varieties.
“Farmers should use smart agriculture which means they have to do pot-holing,” he said. “Digging small dams in between crops to trap whatever run-off we get. They should also practise tie ridging, mulching, especially for smallholder farmers, and wet ripping
“For those with irrigation, the situation has not been very easy, but we continue to encourage them to continue doing their level best under the circumstances.”
Minister Shiri said facilities for cloud seeding were available, but the exercise could not be carried out as the current clouds were not conducive.
Minister Chasi urged farmers to take comfort from the fact that Government was working to ensure national food security.
“It is quite evident that the crop we are looking at is heavily distressed,” he said. “Farming communities are also seriously stressed. I know farming as a business is distressing and with the power shortage and the drought that is conspiring against us, farmers are in a difficult situation.
“We are working closely with the Ministry of Lands because for all of us to be here we have to eat. We must be strategic in the allocation of the little power we have. We have put in place an immediate structure that will enable us to deploy about 328 megawatts to farmers in this part of the country.
“We hope in the next week we will have other structures that will unlock more power, so we ask the farming community to be patient with us and understand that we are working around the clock as we share the distress that they are experiencing to ensure they get power that will enable us to achieve food security.
“If we do not take the measures we are taking now, the entire country is going to be in a difficult situation.”
Minister Chasi warned that domestic consumers might experience increased power outages as they sought to assist farmers.
“If we do not do that, we are going to require massive amounts of foreign currency to import food for the year and that would create more difficulties,” he said. “We have people who are stealing transformers. Farmers need to take measures to protect them.
“We are busy importing transformers, which is an expense that we should have not been incurring. Government is taking legal measures to ensure that those who vandalise property will face the music.”